Is there an age at which one is too old to care for a cat?

Can a person be too old to care for a cat? I think they can be. There are reasons for this. I was speaking with a neighbour the other day and she said, “I am worried my cats might outlive me.” I was surprised because she was only 65. But I see the point. If her cats are young and have 15 years ahead of them it would take her to 80, an age at which a person is at about the average maximum in the West.

The first “cat caretaker age related problem” is whether you’ll die before your cats. Who will look after them when your gone? I don’t want to be morbid but practical. There might not be a suitable person. I can’t think of one unless it is a PoC regular!

I hope you find time to read the comments too because they add to the page

A more pressing and immediate problem is the demands of looking after a domestic cat or cats to a high standard. There is quite a lot to do. What about taking your cat to the veterinarian? If you can’t drive anymore you’ll have to rely on someone else which is tricky or impossible. A lot of people are unable to drive safely at a certain age which is well before their death.

There are some physical demands such as keeping the litter tray clean. It is not that hard but when you get older you don’t see the mess so clearly. You can become neglectful. If the litter tray was left for too long it would be unfair on your cat. She may do it outside of the litter tray causing more problems which would be very difficult to deal with for an 80 year old person. This is more to do with standards really.

There is also the matter of the weight of the cat litter bag. For a fragile woman of 80+ it might be impossible to carry the bag and difficult to open it. There are a lot of tricky aspects to doing the cat litter tray for the average person in their 80s.

Of course it very much depends on the person. Some people are really perky at 85. However, I am basing this post on averages. Dementia is a big topic these days. You might struggle to do a good job of caring for your cat if you had early stage dementia as it can lead to general neglect both of self and the cat. Forget to change the water?

Food and water is another issue. Water needs changing daily. It is easy to forget that for a very elderly person. Cat food is heavy like cat litter and it can be difficult to open. Cans can be tricky and so can pouches.

If both the caretaker and the cat are geriatric the potential difficulties mount. Geriatric cats needs extra care and a watchful approach. Will an old person spot changes in behaviour? A change in cat behaviour is the primary way to diagnose health problems in our cats. If they are ignored it could affect the cat very substantially.

I am going to suggest that a good cat caretaker should be aware of the pitfalls of being a very elderly cat owner and ensure that they are able to make a rational decision about when it might be inappropriate to care for a domestic cat. Each person is different but if the average age of Americans and Europeans is around the 80+ mark, I’d have thought the mid 70s might be a time to consider one’s options.

Preparation and planning for the future is important because a caring cat caretaker would find it upsetting if she had to abandon her cats due to illness. There has to be a certain amount of foreseeing what is likely in the future.

One last point: it is possible for a blind person to care for several cats very successfully provided the person is committed and organised.

What do you think?

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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32 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    I came across this in a funeral service magazine this morning and thought it was quite relevant to this subject, hope it uploads ok.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Neat. I wonder how many people do it. The hard part is nominating the right person. And I don’t trust executors of Wills to do the job properly!

      • kylee says:

        Yes that’s what i was trying to say with my earlier post. If you found the right person, who you know will look after your cat, and do the right thing. I think its good to have something in place in case something happens as they are a big part of our life for such a long time.

        Though also when a beloved one dies that cat might also pine for that person as well so just like us humans cats grieve the same way.

  2. Ruth (Monty's Mom) says:

    I think if a person can find someone to come in and help clean and help with the cat it would be possible to care for a cat even as you get older. My mom cleaned for an older lady with a very elderly cat. She would have to move the sofa and there would be poops under there. I think the cat was getting confused and couldn’t always find the litterbox. But with my mom coming in to move furniture and clean everywhere, it helped make the situation ok for both human and cat. The cat is long gone now, and I’m not sure if his human is still living or not.

    In this economy there are probably a lot of people who would be willing to come in and clean and do it for a very reasonable sum of money. When my mom was cleaning for that woman that was our situation– desperation. Both my parents were unemployed, unable to find work.

    It would not be hard to find people to come clean for cash under the table (no income taxes taken out) and then the person hired is able to make some much needed cash while the elderly person is sure that the house is getting clean and the cat’s litterbox is scooped properly. When things get rough economically there is a whole underground economy that starts up with people doing things like cleaning houses and babysitting and what not for cash under the table, which is never reported. They don’t have to pay taxes on it and they don’t have to report the income, which would then be deducted from their already tiny unemployment check. You don’t have to go far to find these people or trust a stranger. They are right in your church, in your family or your circle of friends. This is a benefit to older people who need a little extra help. In a good economy people wouldn’t bother with side jobs like cleaning and pet sitting for low pay. Today it’s getting to the point where more and more people don’t have a choice.

    • I think if a person can find someone to come in and help clean and help with the cat it would be possible to care for a cat even as you get older.

      Neat thought. This is probably the best solution to allowing a elderly person retain the benefit of her cat’s companionship.

      • kylee says:

        Yea i agree with that, as there are a lot of nice caring people maybe even some home Help that could help with housework. I know some places do that here in New Zealand. Esp if left with just an Older Cat.

    • Dee (Florida) says:

      You’re right, Ruth.
      With the economy the way it is, I can think of 4 people right off the bat who would help me out for a reasonable amount of cash if I was ill or something. They would be grateful to have the cash, and I would be grateful to get the help.

  3. kylee says:

    Thats right Michael I guess that is what I was trying to get at. My Gran had a deep love for Cats more than anyone else in the family. She had mostly Siamese type cats.

  4. kylee says:

    Well maybe having something like a will, or some sort of plan. Sso if something does happen at least the people involved know what happens to the cat/s. I would always be mindful that the cat if still alive goes to a Trustworthy and Reliable Cat person, that is able to look after the animal and not just say it but then dispose of the animal . I dont think any age is a barrier. I guess unless the person is struggling to give proper care to the cat/s

    • It is about struggling to provide proper care. The cat’s owner should be realistic and honest about their abilities to care for their cat properly. At a certain age it becomes more difficult to basic things.

  5. As a bachelor still in the prime of youth i dread the life of my pets after my demise as i live a dangerous adventurous life.After the death of my 22 year old Alexandrine parakeet “Mittoo” i have not thought of rushing to a pet shop and replace him with a “African Grey” or a “Macaw”, commonly available in Mumbai.A decade ago i would have definitely purchased another exotic parrot as a companion to my “Hermit lifestyle”. According to me, caring for pets is a full-time job requiring complete dedication akin to a human child.Without the help of my house-keeper Sabina i would never have been able to take proper care of my two cats at home.I personally feel that once a person feels “OLD” then they should avoid owning pets unless they have younger members of their extended family caring for the pets.My father expired at the age of 83 in the midst of parakeet “Mittoo” and my previous cat “Trixie”, both the pets keeping him busy at home in old age. If i live upto 83 then i hope i have a good care-taker to look after me and my pets if i have any at that age !Till then its a happy contended life with my cats and interacting with various “Cat people” through sites like “P.O.C” and “Facebook”.

    • Judging by your comment, Rudolph, it seems that you agree with me that one does enter a stage in one’s life when consideration must be given to whether you continue looking after a companion animal and that point is dependent upon the person and his or her health and circumstances.

      I think it is important to look ahead because the caring cat caretaker does not want to be thrust into a situation where he or she has to abandon their beloved cats due to ill health.

  6. DW says:

    It is kind of creeping me out folks talking about being in their 60’s and not wanting to take in a kitten. Even 70’s. Don’t you know that the 70’s are the new 50’s? Kidding aside, let’s remember it is the caring for our pets that keep us going. I have a neighbor who is 93, living alone, still drives, and has a memory that beats mine. I do take her food several times a week, and visit with her but I don’t have to do that. I just choose to. She kept an outdoor aviary filled with 20 or more doves most of her life. Just last year she gave them away. Mostly because it was too difficult to get into the aviary to clean it. I think she didn’t want to ask any willing person to take on that job. I worried that she would die after that, but it has been a year or more since, and she keeps busy doing other things. Even sits on the local library board, the Women’s Club…it is an amazement.
    I think it is a good idea to make necessary provisions for our pets, but then stop talking about it being the end. For many of us, it won’t be. Our pets give us a reason to live.

    • Good point DW. I agree that looking after a companion animal helps to extend our lives so a decision is a balancing act. I don’t want to be morbid either and I’m sorry if the article sounds a little bit morbid. It is intended to be practical and realistic. The other point that you make is that it is very much dependent upon the person concerned because some people are very active and alert even into their nineties but I do believe that for every person a moment comes when they should consider more carefully whether they take on another companion cat when their existing cat passes on. That is the only point I’m making.

  7. Dee (Florida) says:

    As is said, age is only a number.
    I rarely feel old, but there’s no telling what may lie ahead.
    I don’t think I’ll ever be faced with not caring for cats. They just keep coming and coming and coming…
    I’ll just have to hope that my caretaking standards don’t take a fall.
    I expect that, at my twilight hour, I’ll be found face down somewhere in the woods, backpack on and loaded and shoulder bags the same.

  8. Leah says:

    Michael you’ve raised lots of points some I hadn’t even thought of. I work for a housing association who have retirement properties for 55’s and over and unlike a lot of housing associations we have a pets policy. The company I work for recognise how traumatic it is to move house never mind have to move and not take your pet with you so provided your pet isn’t a nusiance to others, you are able to care for it and have someone on hand if you can’t you can bring it with you. If you don’t have a pet and would like to get one you can subject to permission from the estate manager and the same rules apply.

    • Your housing association seems to be very enlightened and reasonable about keeping cats. This is good because a lot of retired people depend upon their cats the company. Between the ages of 55 up to 75, it is probably okay to keep a domestic cat but I believe that beyond 75 or thereabouts it may not be a good idea for all the reasons I have stated in the article.

  9. Leah says:

    Valerie and Cindy you have made good points I hear a lot about how someone came by a cat because someone died and relatives kicked the cat out. Some people are so callous and I hope their ‘loved one’ went on to haunt them!

    • My mother died about 5 years ago and left no instructions as to who should look after her cats one of whom was Charlie.

      I just happened to be in a house after her death and notice Charlie half hiding in the conservatory. He looked up at me and I decided there and then to adopt him but as I say it was unplanned.

      My mother could have perhaps done a better job in making plans. Although, she died after an operation for bowel cancer but she did have a weak heart so there was a possibility that she would sustain a heart attack after the operation which is exactly what happened.

      • Ruth (Monty's Mom) says:

        I can just picture Charlie peeking out at you, Michael. He knew a cat lover when he saw one. It was meant to be.

  10. valerie (surrey) says:

    I have thought about this a lot as I am nearing 70 so I can’t take any more cats in. Luckily my daughters are cat lovers too so they will be provided for them I’m sure, so maybe I should ask them now, as you’ve brought it to my attention !!

    • Cindy Shepard says:

      Valerie, I only have one child and have already told her how I want mine taken care of. Being in rescue, I see where there are so many animals being abandoned by a family member, after someone’s passing. I am lucky also that my daughter loves animals.

    • I think it is a good idea to organise those sorts of things so when one does pop one’s clogs someone else can take over that all important role. It is comforting to know that. Unfortunately, as for myself, I don’t really have anyone who is suited to looking after my cat when I die. Perhaps this is one of the key points: do you have someone who can take over when you die? If you have someone it would seem possible to extend the time that one cares for a cat.

      I am sure you realise that you can put your request in your will and, in addition, grant a legacy designed to fund excellent cat caretaking when you are gone.

      • Barbara says:

        In England of course there is the Cinnamon Trust and Cats Protection Guardians set up to care for animals when their owners become unable to or when the animals are left behind when someone dies. It’s not home but at least they are well cared for,rehomed in possible or kept in care for the remainder of their lives if not possible.

  11. Cindy Shepard says:

    Those 40 pound bags of litter are not getting lighter either. In fact, I have ordered Dr Elsey’s through Amazon with free shipping. I figured let some of those young guys do most of the heavy lifting. It was great getting those bags delivered to the front door.

    • It has always occurred to me that some bags of cat litter are really quite heavy and difficult to manage for women especially when opened. I suppose that is the reason why the Tidy Cat Lightweight Litter was created. There may be a bit of a hidden issue with the weight of cat litter particularly as there are many independent single women looking after cats and often more than one cat. Certainly for a 75 year old woman large litter bags would normally be too much to handle.

  12. Cindy Shepard says:

    Michael, you bring up so many points as to why I know I will never adopt or keep a rescued kitten anymore. Since hitting the big 60 I believe it is unfair to take in any more kittens/young cats, other than fostering, rescue to adopt, or adopting a senior cat.

    We get people in their 70’s wanting to adopt a kitten and always try to steer them towards an older, adult cat that is having a hard time finding a home.

    • Yes Cindy there are certainly issues to ponder when we get older. I suppose people who have kept several cats may simply cut back on their numbers as a way of making things more manageable. You made good point that if a person goes to a shelter looking to adopt a cat then it really has to be an elderly cat or a least a cat that is over 10 years old.

  13. Barbara says:

    We’ve discussed this at length in our house and made provision for if we both predecease Walter and Jozef, but further than that we’ve agreed that when the days we dread comes and we no longer have our precious boys we will not actively seek any more cats in case we can’t care for them for the whole of their lives, I say it like that because sometimes we have no choice as we all know cats usually choose us and not the other way round. We are both in our 60’s, me just 60 but I still think that taking a kitten on at my age would not only be extremely hard work but there is also a chance that I would go before the kitten/cat did. I know of at least one rescue centre that refuses to rehome cats with elderly people, I don’t really agree with that because an older cat and maybe hard to rehome cat could be a lifeline to someone who has always had a cat and where the lack of one could cause depression, a cat to love could give an older person a reason to get up in the morning and bring much love to a lonely person, and of course it could be the last chance for the older cat who perhaps has been left behind when someone has passed on so there are two ways of looking at it.

    Yesterday at work I had a visit from a dear old lady that we know slightly and who had just a month or so ago lost her dog and cat both at a very advanced age, she knew I collect food at work and so had brought in what food she had left over when she lost her little companions so close together, but yesterday’s visit was to ask me if I knew where she could go to adopt one or even two more small dogs because she couldn’t bear to be in the house alone and loved walking her previous dog, this old soul walks with a stick and has to be getting on for 80 and yet she still wanted to adopt and was willing to take on older dogs. So I gave her the phone number for Stray Aid who rehome dogs locally and who we help sometimes with dog food we have collected and she left saying she was going home to phone them, I later had a visit from a Stray Aid volunteer quite by chance to drop off some cat food that had been given to them, he always brings the cat food to me and I give him any dog food I have had donated, so I told him about the old lady and her hope to adopt one or two dogs and he was really pleased and said oh yes there are many, many older dogs just waiting for a chance like this. And logically I suppose if the worst was to happen then the dogs could probably go back to Stray Aid having made the old lady’s life complete for a while and had some loving care from her at the same time.
    So, my conclusion is that it depends on the individual, I feel too old at 60, the other lady feels young enough at nearly 80!

    • Yes, Babz it does depend on the individual person and the circumstances. However, even this sprightly lady who so desperately needs the dog companion must stop looking after a dog at some stage of her life for the sake of the dog because at some stage a person is unable to do it adequately. There is this responsibility that goes with looking after a dog or a cat which also needs to be taken into account. Beyond 70 or thereabouts people become ill far more often and when a person is ill, surviving and getting better are the priorities and an illness can remove one’s motivation. All of these things impact upon the caretaking standard of one’s cat. There would have to be a moment, as you say, when a person decides that that is it. It will be a tough moment for me because having a cat around becomes part of one’s life.

    • Barbara says:

      Further to this post I’ve seen the old lady again today and she is off to Stray Aid on Friday with her son to see the dogs for rehoming and in particular a Bedlington Terrier. Watch this space.

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